I often see posts in the yachting groups, or hear crew talking about issues with unpaid wages, difficult captains or bullying, among other things. People can easily feel helpless and isolated, not knowing where to turn for help. Many crew are young people and may not have experience in dealing with these kinds of issues.
It is important to follow the chain of command and bring issues to your line manager (bosun/ chief stew, first mate, captain). It is not recommended to contact the owner or management company. If you choose this path of action, you should tread extremely carefully.
Ensuring you have a contract will help protect your rights. It is not uncommon that yachts will delay issuing contracts. A few days after joining a boat is acceptable, but waiting weeks or months is not.
In some situations, the local port authority maybe be able to assist. I have heard stories about owners refusing to pay crew, only to find the yacht chained to the dock until debts are settled.
Contacting the flag state of the yacht may offer some assistance, however the support on offer varies a lot. It is certainly worth a try but this method is not to be relied upon.
There are several organisations that are geared towards assisting mariners and yacht crew. They work on a membership basis. In general, if you are not a member, they will not be able to assist you. It is well worth joining, this enables them to help others and be on standby for you.
Nautilus International, an independent, influential, global trade union and professional organisation, committed to delivering high quality, cost-effective services to members, and welfare support to necessitous seafarers, their dependants and other maritime professionals.
The PYA (Professional Yachting Association) is a non-profit association founded in 1991, and exists primarily to represent the interests of professional yacht crew around the world. Now with members from over 90 countries worldwide, the PYA is THE body for professional yacht crew.
As the representative voice of boating, the RYA follows clear principles, set out in the RYA Manifesto, in working to defend your rights of public navigation. In addition to the information and advice available on the RYA website, members can gain more in-depth advice from RYA experts on boating related issues.
I encourage people to explore the above options as a matter of preparedness, rather than waiting until you find yourself in a desperate situation. Having the support of experts is an invaluable resource. The cost of these services are relatively minimal and supports good organisations which stand up for your rights. Look at it as an insurance.
Remember, you are not alone! There is a vast amount of help available, if you know where to look and take precautions in advance. Some people seem to believe that yachting holds some sort of special status in terms of workers’ rights. It makes no difference if you are working at sea or in an office. You are entitled to be paid for the work you have carried out and to be treated with respect and dignity. If this is not the case, please do not suffer in silence. Act with maturity and take professional advice to seek what you deserve, while keeping your reputation intact.